Political pundits and reporters in the national media have a habit of dividing up the country into one of two groups: Those who are “for” something and those who are “against” it.

In the case of energy and climate, the national media portrays progressive politicians and activist groups as being “for” reducing greenhouse gas emissions, while conservatives are wholeheartedly “against” it.

That kind of all-or-nothing media coverage does not serve our country well, because the real debate over greenhouse gases and climate change isn’t whether we should be reducing emissions — it’s how we go about reducing emissions. 

Once you’ve had that reality check, it quickly becomes clear that conservatives have some of the best ideas about how to reduce emissions without sacrificing all the other things we care about as a country.

For this reason, it was heartening to attend the second annual Conservative Climate Summit at Utah Valley University earlier this month. Hosted by Republican Utah Rep. John Curtis, the event brought together some of the leading conservative voices in the nation on energy and environmental issues.

Rep. John Curtis challenges conservatives to ‘reverse’ narrative that ‘we don’t care’ at 2nd annual climate summit
The conservative case for climate action

Curtis is the chairman of the Conservative Climate Caucus, which is on a mission to develop and promote market-driven solutions to environmental challenges, rather than big-government schemes which carry costs that outweigh any of the benefits.

The leaders who joined Curtis at this year’s conference included Rep. Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources; Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks, an Iowa Republican and vice chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus; and Wyoming’s Republican Gov. Mark Gordon.

Former Rep. Chris Stewart and the Republican nominee who is running for the seat he recently retired from, Celeste Maloy, also took part.

On the sidelines of this year’s summit, Curtis explained that left-wing environmental policies in Europe are a cautionary tale. Those policies largely prevented fracking for oil and natural gas and curtailed Europe’s ability to generate clean electricity with nuclear power.

The result: sky-high energy prices and a dangerous dependence on Russia for imported natural gas. The terrible cost of anti-fracking, anti-nuclear policies was driven home by the energy shocks that Europe experienced after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In fact, had the U.S. not come to Europe’s rescue with a massive increase in shipments of liquefied natural gas, there could have been a major humanitarian disaster across the entire continent last winter.

“Europe went down a path (and) they made some really bad decisions,” Curtis said in an interview with the Sutherland Institute.

“If (conservatives) are not at the table pointing out the fallacy of those decisions, (America) will likely make the same mistakes.” 

The key for conservatives: realizing that there are major environmental benefits to other policy positions they take.

For example: Dependence on Russian gas wasn’t just a security problem for Europe. It was a major climate problem, because Russia’s decrepit oil and gas infrastructure was a major source of methane emissions, one of the most powerful greenhouse gases. 

Switching to U.S. natural gas was a major win for the climate. Because our oil and gas industry is not controlled by the state, it operates in a competitive market, it’s better capitalized, and it can afford the kind of environmental controls that dramatically limit methane emissions.

So, conservatives who supported the increase in U.S. energy exports to Europe for geopolitical and trade reasons may not realize that their position was also good for the climate, too. 

“The same policy that is best for our environment is the same policy that is also best for national security, energy independence, agriculture and our economy,” Curtis told attendees of the conservative climate summit.

Westerman, chairman of the natural resources committee, told the summit about another example of conservative ideas having major environmental benefits.

Cutting red tape and taking on the bureaucracy are cherished conservative ideals. But even left-of-center politicians and interest groups believe we need to speed up the permitting process for energy projects of all kinds, including solar and wind.

Not only that, the nation needs a faster permitting process for the mining projects needed to produce the materials that go into solar panels and wind turbines, not to mention electric cars. 

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That’s why the debt-ceiling compromise bill passed earlier this year included major permitting reforms that House Republicans championed before anyone else, Westerman told the summit. 

“It’s often implied, ‘Well, you’re a conservative, therefore you don’t care about the environment, you don’t care about climate,’” Stewart, who retired in mid-September as the representative for Utah’s 2nd Congressional District, told the summit. “Well, what nonsense.”

In private company, I might use a stronger word than “nonsense,” but he’s absolutely right. Unwinding these false and unhelpful stereotypes will take time, but thanks to Utah leaders like Curtis, it is finally happening.   

Steve Handy is a former Utah legislator and Utah state director for The Western Way.

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